Molasses is part of the history of the Maritimes. East coast trading ships returned from their missions to the West Indies laden with barrels of the dark syrup.
It was used to sweeten cakes, make candy, flavor baked beans… Generations of cooks found innovative ways to incorporate molasses into their culinary repertoires.
Oatmeal Molasses Bread is a Maritime classic that is often referred to as ‘Brown Bread’ in these parts. There are variations on the theme along the whole Atlantic seaboard. While Boston brown bread is steamed, this regional favorite is baked. Both use a fair dose of molasses for their characteristic taste and color.
This bread uses light or ‘fancy’ molasses for flavor. It will produce a sweet molasses taste that isn’t overwhelming.
My version also uses 100% whole wheat, resulting in a robust bread that makes a great accompaniment to soups, stews and – of course – baked beans.
Whole grains will provide better nutrition and texture in your loaves, but working with all whole wheat flour can be a bit challenging if you don’t bake yeast breads often.
Here are some tips for getting a good rise in your whole wheat Oatmeal Molasses Bread:
Add lemon juice to your dough. 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every four cups of flour in your bread will help the gluten in the flour relax and become more flexible. The gluten will then be able to stretch without breaking when the bread is rising.
Use your mixer. If you have a stand mixer, you may have (or be able to purchase) a dough hook. The hook can give your dough a gluten-developing workout in less time and without straining your wrists!
Know your flour. Canadian flour is milled from hard wheat and has a higher gluten content than the softer wheat which is grown in many other countries. Because of the higher gluten content, it can easily develop enough elasticity to expand during rising. In other countries, home bakers may need to purchase ‘bread flour’ or consider adding gluten powder to their flour when working with 100% whole wheat.
Be patient. Give your dough the time it needs to fully rise. A first rising at room temperature should take up to 1-1/2 hours. A second rising should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If your dough has been sufficiently kneaded so that the gluten is relaxed and flexible, give the yeast time to do its job.
Don’t let your dough rise for too long. On the other hand, if your dough over-rises, the power of the yeast can become exhausted. When it stops growing, the amount of rising gases the yeast produces will decrease. Your dough will collapse because there is nothing to keep it suspended.
Use half all-purpose flour. It takes less effort to develop the gluten in all-purpose (or white) flour, so it needs less kneading to create good rise. Using half all-purpose and half whole wheat will still give good texture and improved nutritional value to your bread.
- 2 cups / 500 ml oatmeal
- ¼ cup / 60 ml vegetable oil
- ½ cup / 125 ml molasses
- 1-1/2 teaspoons / 7.5 ml salt
- 2 cups / 500 ml boiling water
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml sugar
- ½ cup / 125 ml warm water
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml dry yeast
- 4-1/2 to 5 cups / 1.125 -1.25 liters whole wheat flour
- Place oatmeal, vegetable oil, molasses, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over and stir. Let the mixture sit until cooled to room temperature and the oats have softened and absorbed most of the water.
- If you are using a stand mixer, soak the oat mixture in your mixing bowl.
- In small bowl, stir together the warm water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir gently to moisten the yeast. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should begin to bubble and be active.
- Pour the yeast into the oatmeal mixture and stir until blended.
- Add 4-1/2 cups of flour and stir until a rough dough forms. Add additional flour as needed to create a dough that can be handled. It can be a bit sticky, but should be able to be gathered into a ball for kneading.
- If you are using a stand mixer, use your dough hook for seven minutes. Add small amounts of flour as needed.
- If you are kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes, or until a small piece of dough can be stretched without breaking.
- Form the dough into a smooth ball and rub with a bit of oil. Place the dough in the mixing bowl, and cover with a clean cloth. Place in a draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. The dough should be twice the size when it has risen.
- While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 4x8-inch / 10x20-cm loaf pans.
- Gently press risen dough down to release air, and turn back out onto your kneading surface.
- Cut the dough in half, and form each half into a loaf. Place in the prepared pans and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F / 176 degrees C.
- Bake loaves in preheated oven for 35- 40 minutes. When done, the loaves should be well-browned and should release from the pans very easily. If the bread will not come out of the pans easily, bake it for another 2-3 minutes.
- Let loaves cool completely before cutting.
When you are kneading the dough, you can grease your hands and kneading surface lightly to keep the dough from sticking. This works well when the dough is just a little sticky, and will keep you from having to add more flour. This can help create a lighter loaf.